Thailand’s Thaksin Faces Royal Insult Probe in Frail Health

Just a day after being released from detention, Thailand’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, appeared before prosecutors to address allegations of insulting the monarchy, presenting a frail image that has sparked a national conversation on his health and the political tensions surrounding his case.

Thaksin, a figure who has cast a long shadow over Thai politics for decades, attended the meeting in a wheelchair, donning a neck brace, images that local media quickly circulated, portraying the physical toll on the 74-year-old billionaire. His release on parole came 15 years after he fled Thailand, a country he once led before being ousted in a military coup.

Preecha Sudsanguan, a senior official, noted Thaksin’s significant health deterioration, stating, “I spoke to him and he barely had any voice. From what I can see he is truly ill.” This condition led to his parole, with the king commuting his sentence amid considerations for his age, health, and time served.

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra arrives to greet his supporters after landing at Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport on August 22, 2023. © Lillian Suwanrumpha, AFP

Critics, however, have raised eyebrows at Thaksin’s preferential treatment and the severity of his health issues, igniting a political debate that mirrors the country’s longstanding divide. Opposition voices have cynically termed his condition “Thaksin’s disease,” suggesting it could become a pretext for leniency in the justice system.

Thaksin’s dramatic return to Thailand in August contrasted sharply with his current state, as he initially showed no signs of illness. However, health complications quickly emerged, with Thaksin complaining of chest pains on his first night in jail, leading to a hospital transfer where he was treated for high blood pressure, heart problems, and back pains, among other issues.

The legal proceedings against Thaksin for allegedly insulting the monarchy, based on a 2015 interview while in exile, underscore the gravity of lese-majeste laws in Thailand. Such offences carry severe penalties, reflecting the sacrosanct status of the monarchy under the constitution.

As the attorney-general’s office deliberates on whether to indict Thaksin, the case has drawn significant public interest, with Thaksin maintaining his loyalty to the monarchy and pleading for fairness. The outcome remains to be seen on April 10, when Thaksin is due to hear the decision on the royal insults probe, in what is described as “an important case” involving a figure who, despite claiming retirement, is expected to wield influence over the current government.

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